How Will Your Job History Impact Your Disability Claim?

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A disabled person’s work history plays a significant role in obtaining Social Security Disability benefits, determining the programs that are available to applicants, and the amount of pay the claimant receives. The types of jobs the claimant held in the past, the skills and abilities needed to perform the work, how long the person worked, and the wages earned (and taxes paid) will all be considered by the SSA.

Assessing a Disability Claimant’s Ability to Work

To decide whether applicants are able to work, Social Security Administration claims examiners look at a variety of factors. They consider job duties, any special skills the claimant may have learned or developed in performing their regular work tasks, and the physical and mental demands of the position. Examiners take into account the claimant’s residual functional capacity to determine which activities the worker can and cannot perform due to the impairments. This helps examiners decide whether applicants’ conditions preclude them from returning to their current line of work. For example, a warehouse worker who has received a light RFC as a result of a shoulder injury may be unable to return to a job that required him or her to regularly lift items weighing 50 pounds or more.

Examining the Possibility of Other Work

Claims examiners also consider the requirements of applicants’ previous jobs to determine whether claimants can perform other types of work. Given their functional impairments, age, education, and prior work skills, examiners use the Social Security Administration’s medical-vocational guidelines to assess whether claimants’ abilities could be transferred to another type of work. For example, a law enforcement officer who develops a physically disabling medical condition may not be able to patrol the streets any longer. However, if he or she previously worked as an administrative assistant, the Social Security Administration may find that he or she is able to return to that type of work.

Determining Non-Medical Eligibility

The Social Security Administration uses the duration of work test and the recent work test to determine applicants’ non-medical eligibility. The duration of work test considers the total number of years applicants spent working relative to their ages. According to the Social Security Administration, for example, those who become disabled at the age of 30 generally require two years of work, while those who become disabled at age 60 may need nine and one-half years of work history to qualify for benefits. The recent work test examines claimants’ work contributions leading up to their disability. The percentage of a set period that those seeking SSDI benefits must have worked before their disabilities is determined by their ages. For example, those who become disabled in the calendar quarter they turn 31-years-old or older must have worked approximately five out of the 10 years prior to their disabilities.

Earning Work Credits

Applicants’ employment history determines whether they have enough work credits to qualify for SSDI benefits. As people work and pay Social Security taxes into the system, they accumulate work credits. With few exceptions, applicants must have a total of 20 work credits to receive benefits.

Since 1978, credits have been based on the total wages that employees earn throughout the year, regardless of when the work was done during the year. For the year 2019, each $1,360 that people earn translates into one work credit. Workers can earn a total of four credits per year.

Calculating SSDI Payments

SSDI benefit amounts are based on applicants’ average lifetime earnings before they became disabled. The severity of a claimant’s disability or his or her financial situation does not contribute to the amount received on a monthly basis. Rather, the Social Security Administration uses a weighted formula to calculate unique benefit amounts for each person.

There is, however, a cap on the amount people may receive. For the year 2019, the maximum SSDI benefit amount is $2,861. Applicants should also keep in mind that receiving other disability payments such as workers’ compensation or private disability benefits may reduce the amount claimants receive.

Qualifying Eligible Family Members for Benefits

Work history also helps determine whether family members are eligible to draw disability benefits based on the workers’ record. Certain family members, including spouses who are 62-years-old or older, spouses caring for applicants’ disabled children or kids under the age of 16, unmarried children under 18-years-old, and unmarried children 18-years-old or older who suffered a disabling condition before the age of 22 may qualify for benefits. Claimants’ average lifetime earnings prior to their disabilities also factor into the benefit amounts that eligible family members receive. Dependant benefits do not reduce the amounts awarded to SSDI recipients.

Workers who aren’t eligible for SSDI based on their work histories may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits instead, as long as their incomes and assets are low enough.

Social Security Disability

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